Last year’s race came down to the trident Alaphilippe, Van der Poel and Van Aert. At the Tiegemberg, with almost 40 kilometres left to race, the three were the only riders remaining at the front. But then – whoops – the Frenchman crashed out after colliding with a motorbike. The two cyclo crossers extended their lead before Van der Poel outgunned his great rival on the line.
Revenge is a dish best served at the finish line. That’s what Van Aert will be thinking when clicking into his pedals in Antwerp. Not to mention Alaphilippe.
With its relentless onslaught of (cobbled) climbs, the Tour of Flanders is always a war of attrition. Virtually all ‘hellingen’ are situated in the second half of the race, while the Oude Kwaremont/Paterberg combo are the last obstacles inside the last 20 kilometres. After the Paterberg there are 13.2 kilometres left.
Mostly, the decisive moves happen earlier. In 2015, Terpstra attacked on the Kruisberg and Kristoff followed his wheel to outsprint the Dutchman on the line. In 2016, Peter Sagan attacked from an elite group on the Paterberg and soloed to victory. In 2017, Philippe Gilbert kicked it up a notch and rode alone for more than 50 kilometres before winning the race in heroic style. In 2018, Niki Terstra started his successful long-range attack with 30 kilometres remaining. In 2019, Bettiol opted for a Saganesque approach by attacking on the Oude Kwaremont.
Last year, the pre-decisive moves were made in the hilly section starting with 55 kilometres remaining. It’s when the riders tackle the Kwaremont/Paterberg combo for the first time before continuing onto the Koppenberg (600 metres at 11.6%), Steenbeekdries (700 metres at 5.3%) and Taaienberg (530 metres at 6.6%).
As said before, after the Taaienberg the three strongest riders in the race prevailed last year – Van der Poel, Van Aert, and Alaphilippe. Will we see a similar scenario unfold in 2021?
And, what kind of dish is going to be served at the finish line?
Favourites 2021 Tour of Flanders
***** Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe
**** Michael Matthews, Peter Sagan, Mads Pedersen
*** Alexander Kristoff, Jasper Stuyven, Kasper Asgreen
** Dylan van Baarle, Tim Wellens, Matteo Trentin, Søren Kragh Andersen
* Oliver Naesen, Alberto Bettiol, Greg Van Avermaet, Tiesj Benoot, Anthony Turgis